Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Lots of interesting tidbits in this story in the Pitt News from earlier this week: Drivers' counts don't always add up. The main point has to do with some data compiled by students watching drivers count riders boarding for free with their Pitt ID's and supposed overcounting of those riders. While that is an important point in itself, it's worth noting that the Pitt-Port Authority contract is fixed price so in the short run any overcounting does not directly generate any more revenue for the Port Authority. I would still hope all is being done for accurate collection of ridership data. Overall the story seems to come out much more positive for the Port Authority than the headline would lead you to believe. Assuming the ridership numbers are broadly correct, the story documents how the deal allowing Pitt students and staff (so as disclosure, that would include me) to ride for free has generally increased ridership among those eligible. The most telling factoid quoted in the piece:
"reduction of the Port Authority service hours have made Pitt riders a much greater proportion of total ridership. Pitt riders now make up more than 8.5 percent of total rides in the system".
So if students are continuing to ride in equal or greater numbers but overall ridership is down, who is literally being kicked off the bus? and 8.5% are from Pitt! That is not 8.5% students across the city, that is 8.5% for Pitt alone. Granted it's a big institution, but still just one institution. What if you add in all the other students using the system, many with passes of their own, seniors who are covered by the state funded free fare system, and other groups I am probably unaware of... Remember when during the debates over route cutbacks the one big factoid that many liked to throw at the Port Authority was how low their percentage of revenues collected at the fare box is compared to some other systems. Well, if you have a disproportionate concentration of seniors and students whose fares are covered by other means, is it surprising that Pittsburgh would have a comparably lower proportion of farebox generated revenue? It just is amazing that in one sentence you will hear so many people tout what a great place this is that there are so many students here attracted by quality educational institutions, but then overlook some of the costs that such a concentration of students will generate. You can't really have it both ways in the end.


Blogger Burgher Jon said...

I'm currently posting from Manhattan and had a thought. Around here Mayor Bloomberg has suggested a congestion fee for driving in mid-town. Everyone would have to pay $5 to enter the city.

I have pondered wether such a system could help Pittsburgh's Public Transportation. I fear that if we let our public transportation system slip too far as our population declines, we will be unable to encourage a resurgance in population.

I don't think a toll would work, as it will in NYC. However, I was thinking perhaps a $3-$5 per day tax on parking. I know that no politician could pass this, even under the disguise of environmentalism (that Bloomberg has used), but I'm curious if anyone else thinks it might work in theory. The reality is public transportation will not be used by people who can afford cars as long as there is an abundance of cheep parking downtown.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 8:34:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Burgher jon,

On the off chance that this isn't a troll, I'd like to point out $3-$5 is pretty much the tax on parking in Pittsburgh right now if you park downtown or in Oakland (unless you have your parking through Pitt). We have two cars and pay more for parking than we do for gas and insurance combined.

All that they would need to do to get me to go back to riding the bus is run enough buses that I could actually get on the bus to get home in the evening.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 10:00:00 AM  
Blogger Burgher Jon said...

I live over a bridge, in the southside, not under a bridge :-).

Adding more busses (or cleaning them or lowering the fare) is what I'd suggest using what I guess would be another $3-$5 in tax for. I assume (though I may be making an ass out of you and me in doing so), that the Port Authority has done a study or two that shows with the current demand/incentive system that they will not be able to break even on additional busses. I just think the current equilibrium is not working well.

No doubt parking is expensive in the Burgh but in most cities that I've been to where the transit system is effective. Parking expenses are more in line with the price of the car then they are with insurance and gas.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 2:11:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

I saw "Manhattan" and thought you might be an out-of-towner.

Thursday, March 27, 2008 12:37:00 AM  

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